Foundation of the Filipino Community in San Diego

If there’s one thing that’s very notable in Filipinos, it’s about being hospitable and smiling through the toughest of times. Due to globalization, Filipinos can be found in other countries all over the world, one of which is in the United States. There is a place in downtown San Diego known as “Skid Row” where Filipinos have settled since the 1920s.

Back then, there were many restrictions in terms of land, economy and race. This led Filipinos in California being forced to live at San Diego’s skid row. Racial and ethnic minorities such as the Chinese, African Americans and Mexicans, dealt with the same scenario. Despite being put into this circumstance, Filipinos strived to make the community a home.

Quoting Carlos Bulosan who was a Filipino American author, poet and activist: “There was no other place in the district where we were allowed to reside, and even when we tried to escape from it, we were always driven back to this narrow island of despair.” Bulosan immigrated to America in 1930 and lived there until his death. Regardless of the difficult situation the Filipinos are experiencing, they managed to efficiently use rental spaces that were available to them and strived to earn.

Having a business is one among many means to earn in life. Filipino-owned businesses found a place in skid row with its markets, cafes, restaurants and dance halls. This led to some growth of the Filipino community as well as the businesses themselves within the area. The San Diego City Directories can provide the list of these Filipino businesses from 1920 up to 1965.

Fifth Avenue and Market Street

Photo Courtesy of San Diego Historical Society
In the hustle and bustle of life, there needs to be time for relaxation and recreation. For Filipinos in San Diego, skid row became the place for spare time. “Filipino Social Clubs” composed of taxi dance halls, restaurants and pool halls, was the term for the places of leisure where Filipinos had a good time and built camaraderie with one another.

Among the restaurants in San Diego was the Luzon Cafe which can be found on Third Avenue and Market Street. The Manzano family owns the restaurant and it is a space where elder males (manongs in Tagalog) get together as well as Filipino sailors who’d eat cheap food. A nearby restaurant called Manila Cafe can also be found on Market Street. Meanwhile, Filipino barber shops also became a place for socializing. In the 1960s, Filipinos visited the Manila Barber Shop frequently that can be found on Fifth Avenue.

Photo Credits to Herb S. Tuyay

Back then, U.S. employers refrained from paying the passage of Filipino families that brought about the huge male population of Filipinos in California, since most Filipinas are not allowed to leave by their parents. In line with this, the Filipino population in San Diego was composed of almost all men. Due to racism, limitations on marriage became a challenge for Filipino men. For this reason, socialization with women happened in dance halls. 10 to 15 cents could get you a dance with a woman back then which lasts for a minute.

Not only do these places of leisure give Filipinos time to relax, it was also a place for opportunity. Filipinos also exchanged information with one another about job opportunities and the current gossip. This just goes to show how Filipinos are willing to help their fellow country men. Included in this Filipino community are also the migratory laborers and sailors and not just permanent residents in San Diego.

The word “home” took an unconventional meaning in San Diego for Filipinos. Home for Filipinos in San Diego did not mean being permanent necessarily. Because of being mobile, home is a place wherever Filipinos go. This just goes to show how Filipinos are connected to one another.

Many years have gone by since Filipinos first went to San Diego. Different establishments have also been built, some replacing old ones. Despite the changes that have happened in San Diego, one thing is for sure, the Filipino community still lives on.

Reference: “Skid Row”: Filipinos, Race and the Social Construction of Space in San Diego by Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr.

Written by Jan Marbella

Jan Marbella is a Digital Marketing Intern of PS Media Enterprise and a 4th year Bachelor of Arts in Communication student of De La Salle University Dasmariñas.


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Foundation of the Filipino Community in San Diego
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